FRIDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Eating foods that contain
certain nutrients may help people with newly diagnosed type 1
diabetes continue producing some insulin for as long as two years,
a new study finds.
Although eating such foods doesn't alter the need to take
insulin injections to treat type 1 diabetes, foods with leucine --
an amino acid -- and with omega-3 fatty acids may mean that less
insulin is needed, according to the new research.
"After the diagnosis of type 1 diabetes, a branch-chain amino acid and long-chain fatty acid were related to C-peptide levels, which are important because they've been shown to improve control of glucose, and maybe help prevent complications," said Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the study's lead author.
This is "very early work," however, and parents of children with
type 1 diabetes need to continue to follow their child's doctor's
orders with regard to insulin and any other medications, said
Mayer-Davis, professor of nutrition and medicine and interim
chairwoman of the department of nutrition at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Foods containing leucine include dairy products, meat, soy
products, eggs, nuts and whole wheat. Omega-3 fatty acids are found
in fatty fish, especially salmon.
At least one expert wasn't convinced that these foods could make
a difference in insulin production in patients with type 1
"Nutrition in type 1 diabetes is very difficult to evaluate," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "It's possible that nutrition has a small effect, but people have been trying to connect nutrition to type 1 [diabetes] for more than 30 years. This study will not change my practice."
Type 1 diabetes is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which
the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and eventually destroys
the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas.
Insulin is a hormone that's necessary to metabolize the
carbohydrates in food. When carbohydrates are processed into
glucose, insulin helps that glucose get into the body's cells to be
used as fuel for the body and brain. Without insulin, glucose can't
enter the cells and it builds up in the blood.
People with type 1 diabetes often continue making some insulin,
though not enough to nourish their bodies properly, for months or
even years after diagnosis, according to background information
included in the study. The more beta cells that are preserved and
still making insulin, the less the chance of serious complications,
according to the study.
To see if nutritional factors might contribute to the
preservation of beta cells, Mayer-Davis and her colleagues reviewed
data on more than 1,300 young people up to 20 years old who had
been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Their average duration of
diabetes was nearly 10 months.
Nutritional information was gathered from participants and
mothers, including information on the consumption of foods
containing leucine. Blood samples were analyzed for nutrients such
as vitamin D and fatty acids. Blood samples also were used to
measure the amount of C-peptide, which is a byproduct of insulin
After two years, the researchers found that leucine and omega-3
fatty acids were significantly associated with higher levels of
Vitamin D, which has long been suspected to be somewhat
protective against type 1 diabetes, was linked to lower levels of
C-peptide in this study. Mayer-Davis said she feels this finding
may have been due to chance, especially since it isn't consistent
with previous research.
Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to have a linear
relationship with the preservation of beta cell function,
Mayer-Davis said. That means the more omega-3 fatty acids in the
blood, the greater the likelihood of higher levels of
"It's possible that there are approaches that may improve the ability to produce insulin after diagnosis," Mayer-Davis said. "Within the context of a healthy diet, dairy products, high-protein foods and salmon may help. But parents shouldn't expect that these foods will be a miracle. Their children will still need insulin."
For his part, Zonszein said, "Type 1 is a very complex disease.
I think this needs to be studied more, but I wouldn't recommend
dietary changes now. I think the potential mechanism of action
needs to be studied. But changing diets dramatically, especially in
kids, can dramatically change the flora [such as bacteria] in the
gut, which may create other problems."
Mayer-Davis agreed that more research is needed, and she said
she hopes other scientists look into this connection.
Asked if this information could benefit children or adults with
type 2 diabetes, Zonszein said it's impossible to know from this
study. Mayer-Davis noted, however, that previous research on
animals with type 2 disease is one of the factors that initially
sparked their interest in this nutrient.
Results of the study appear in the July issue of the journal
Learn more about type 1 diabetes from the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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